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Biochemical Studies on Bioluminescent Systems

A large variety of animals can produce their own light, and, in most of the oceanic environment, bioluminescence is the primary light source. From a fundamental point of view, bioluminescence is an extremely interesting biological process since it provides an excellent model for a wide span of multidisciplinary investigations, ranging from studies on protein function and structure to enzymatic evolution or even photoecology.

Images taken during the sampling expedition of bioluminescent organisms in the South Atlantic (Brazilian coastline, southern region) carried out with the collaboration of the Alucia Vessel crew (USA): (Left) detail showing the stern crane lifting the dragnet used for the sampling of luminescent organisms. (Right) Sampling of bioluminescent organisms on board submersibles Nadir (lower left corner) and Deep Rover (higher left corner), performed at a depth of around 550 m. Photos: Anderson G. Oliveira. 

However, despite the phenomenon being commonplace in marine environments, there are still many unexplored bioluminescent systems whose purification and characterization of components related to light emission could contribute to novel biochemical, evolutionary and applied fields of research. Thus, our research objective is to investigate chemical mechanisms related to bioluminescence processes in luminous organisms, as well as apply isolated substances and concepts involved in this process, in order to develop new analytical and biotechnological tools. Among the target organisms are those whose light emission process is not yet well-understood, as is the case for polychaetes, mollusks, tunicates and various species of deep-water fish. 

Images of one of the project’s target bioluminescent organisms, the marine annelid Chaetopterus: under natural light (top) and in the dark (bottom), displaying bioluminescence by chemical stimulation. Photos: Alvaro E. Migotto, Anderson G. Oliveira and Jeremy D. Mirza.